A Bollywood Covid-19 Film: Here’s What It Could Look Like

Our virus-disrupted present, the pains it has induced, the heroics it has sparked, the threats and promises it holds, will birth many, perhaps uncountable, engaging stories. Here’s a sample of premises based on just a sub-60 second scroll of my Twitter timeline some days ago. An earnest small town mayor unwittingly challenges her country’s blundering autocrat. A young woman turns the tables on a landlord seeking sex in lieu of the rent she can’t afford. A freshly divorced, middle aged executive discovers the pleasures of drag dressing.

Content creators across the world will be looking to tap the rich vein of coronavirus stories. Bollywood is too. It will be a surprise though if mainstream Hindi filmmakers manage to look beyond a predictable strand or two of the rather complex weave of circumstances unspooling and looming. Any stimulating Indian film output that emerges is more likely to come from non-Hindi filmmakers. The ‘regional’ filmmakers have been ahead of their Bollywood counterparts for a while, perhaps always.

For starters, let us not hold our breaths for a Bollywood tale that will ruffle political feathers. Bollywood generally endorses the dominant paradigm. It once shored up the Nehruvian idea of India, has generally been careful not to embarrass the powers that be (even in the Angry Young Man era), and now showcases Modi-fied India and takes jibes at its detractors.

All this will have a bearing on what we will/ won’t see finally on screens. What we won’t see is any probe into New Delhi’s response to the pandemic. This would be a pity given lingering questions around, say, whether the lockdown could have been better planned or whether the central government should have been as generous with money as it has been with advice, and the exciting dramatization possibilities they present.

So, no, we won’t get tales spotlighting political calculi, missteps, and Centre-State tensions. Expect nothing on the mass misery the sudden lockdown caused either. Still not convinced? Try recalling a Hindi film centered on the monumental, painful fiasco that was demonetization.

What we will see though will be references to the extraordinary mettle it takes to announce a nation-wide lockdown and hoarders, overbearing officials, and exploitative employers who tried, unsuccessfully obviously, to thwart an essentially wise and timely move.

The disease, of course, will feature in the narrative. At some point, it will choke and kill a noble soul. This, based on what TB, tumors, and hole-y hearts have triggered in the years gone by, will inspire a rush of do-good resolve or dodgy, desperate choices in a key character, possibly even the chief protagonist.

This being 2020 and with the scientific community’s struggle against a new virus strain well-documented, science will not go ignored. A spiky ball captured heaving under a microscope or whizzing through the air against a backdrop of ominous music is a possibility. Any resemblance to past unveilings of abnormal X-rays and brain scans will be purely coincidental. A Mission Mangal type venture into vaccine-making labs can’t be ruled out either. Due care will be taken to ensure that scientific fact does not come in the narrative’s way.

More than anything else, it is anti-national forces who will give the plot its meat. Between theories of the virus’ Chinese lab origins and an irresponsible Tablighi Jamaat spreader event, and now a Chinese build-up on the border, there is enough to imagine a conspiracy against the country, indeed the world.

At the end of the day, the Bollywood coronavirus film will be about an Akshay Kumar type #NewIndia mascot playing a coronavirus warrior enforcing a much-needed, brilliantly-conceived lockdown. S/he will be hot on the heels of virus-spreading terror cells – and while at it, will drum sense into heads of lockdown critics (the ones who won’t beat utensils and light diyas and ask ‘negative’ questions) and nasty elements harassing health workers, holding workers’ salaries, and siphoning rations. It will be a sarkari film, asking questions of everyone but the sarkar itself. Surprise us, Bollywood! This apparently is the time for creating new normals.

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